I’m not an overly political person. Live and let live is my philosophy. Today, however, I feel the need to borrow a soapbox from someone and write what will undoubtedly be one of a million posts/articles/stories written today for this occasion.
Most people have their own personal stories about where they were on this day in 2001. I guess I’m no different in that respect. But I felt the need to write it down today. I want to remember those feelings and that time.
I wasn’t in school, or just getting to work, or waking up in the morning somewhere in the U.S. that day. No, on September 11, 2001, I was on active duty in the U.S. Navy stationed in Keflavik, Iceland. I was a world away, disconnected with everything going on stateside. I was also pregnant with my first child.
That day I had gone to lunch and then attended a planning meeting for that year’s Navy birthday ball. When I returned to the print shop where I worked, I found everyone gathered in the Chief’s office, watching the television.
At first, I thought they were all slacking off watching some action flick on AFN. The towers at the World Trade Center were gushing huge plumes of smoke. I glanced down to the lower corner to see the CNN Live where the AFN logo should have been. Of course, my first question was “what the *bleep* is going on?” followed by short, sidelong glances from my coworkers who soon went back to watching the TV. It was clear they didn’t know either.
Soon after that, the first tower came down.
At one point, I remember sitting down. Not much else got done that day. I thought about all the people that died in the planes and in the buildings. What was worse for me was that I couldn’t wrap my head around what kind of world I was bringing a child into. They would never know a time before this brand of terrorism.
I find myself thinking about this today. My oldest is in second grade now. When her classmates are seniors in high school, there will be no child left in grade school that was born before 9/11/01. No child that will know what it’s like to not have to take off your shoes to go through security at an airport. They won’t know a time when *some* folks didn’t associate Islamics/Muslims with terrorism. I used to think this country couldn’t get any more jaded. I wish I had been right. A lot of people discovered that day that we do not live in the protected bubble of America. What they thought was safety was only ignorance.
I met someone the following year who had worked in the Pentagon during the attacks. I was still in Iceland, and I sang the National Anthem for the memorial ceremony that morning. He had previously been stationed in Keflavik, and returned on 9/11 to speak to us about that day. His shop was right beside where the plane had hit the Pentagon. He was absent that morning due to a dentist appointment, but his shipmates weren’t so lucky. He approached me at the base coffee shop that afternoon and thanked me for the beautiful rendition of the anthem, and I told him thank you. I meant it. I had sung it for him and everyone like him. Even though I had been, and was still at that point, on active duty on 9/11, he had played a direct part in those happenings. I expressed to him how I couldn’t imagine going through that, or how he dealt with it every day. I gave him my sincere gratitude for speaking with us that morning. It couldn’t have been easy telling hundreds of people what it was like to walk back into his office once all the debris had been cleared and repairs made and remembering those who were no longer alive to see the new spaces. Sharing something that personal with an auditorium of strangers… well, I couldn’t have done it. I felt closer to what had happened because of his words, and I needed that. The day it happened all I could do was sit on my hands and watch.
It’s now eight years on, and I’m no longer in the Navy. My husband still is though, and my brother is just starting his second tour in Iraq. The war is still going on. Someday, it won’t be, I know, but it’s disheartening.
I don’t think I’ve said anything new here. I’m restating what many others before me have said. If you do anything in honor of the day, make it personal. I hugged my daughter this morning, happy she is a healthy child, but sad that some of her innocence is gone, whether or not she’s aware of it. I hugged her and thought of that afternoon in Iceland, of the people that won’t be hugged or give hugs again. I thought of the speaker at that memorial ceremony. And I thought of my brother.
If you do nothing else, think about it, but don’t let the hate hurt your heart. Love those you still have and love those you have lost. It’s not about politics. It’s about memory.